Chapter 8: Alfred, The Human Phoenix
"What is it?" Asked Harold, unaware of Eugene's findings the night of his father's disappearance. He knew they discovered the lab, but never pushed to find out what was inside so Harold was unable to connect Eugene's behavior here with the events of that night. Had he known so or had he been able to read the severity in Eugene's expression Harold wouldn't have continued to make light of the situation. "Are you hungry after all?"
"Harold," Eugene answered sharply, but softened just as fast, remembering his friend's ignorance. He pointed to the store front. "My dad invented the animal injections. That means this shop has been making deals with him!"
Harold's eyes widened. "But he's a known fugitive! Why would a store so openly deal with him?"
"We've got to check it out." Eugene coaxed Harold to follow and the two entered.
The shop door opened automatically, momentarily taking Eugene aback as if it were some sort of high tech piece of wizard equipment, but the red head was reminded almost as quickly that automatic doors were already common place in the human world.
The area surrounding the two boys was somehow more mesmerizing than the entirety of the Magic World thus far. Unlike the Bald Old Man's magic shop which was required to be hidden away, this magic shop was free to be as showy as desired. And it had to be, as the over saturation of magic in everyday wizarding life generally lessened the impact of a shop designed to sell magical items.
Though to humans like Eugene and Harold, the view was astonishing. Bright lights flashed around the store. Aisles led as far as the eye could see, making the scenery feel more akin to a corn maze than a store. But while a corn maze may grow stale, passing the same sights turn after turn, the shelves in the store were always filled with something new.
Each item was more mesmerizing than the last. Bones of magical creatures, flowers with signs beside them telling of their miraculous abilities, even pieces of jewelry that appeared to be ancient. Though for a humans like Eugene or Harold it was hard to tell what anything was for. Many items appeared incredibly ordinary like when Eugene had first seen Karly's diary, but in this shop especially, even the most ordinary looking items enticed the redhead. Undoubtedly there must have been a spell to enhance the appeal of each item around them.
Lengthy descriptions explaining the items' significance were displayed beside them, but Eugene, mind set on a mission refused to give in to read them. Harold followed, much less dedicated than Eugene, but unwilling to persuade his friend to slow down or stop long enough to risk getting lost in such an unfamiliar store. As they pushed forward more shelves apparated around them.
Then in a glass case Eugene's fascination got the better of him. He stopped and peered admiringly at a long black cloak and scythe. Though Eugene told himself he wasn't going to read the description, his eyes caught the words Grim Reaper's Cloak & Scythe (1305 - 1825), and with that, he disallowed himself to break the reading there. Admittedly, Eugene knew little of the Grim Reaper's origins, but he found the thought of a cloaked harvester of souls equal parts chilling and fascinating. Though he'd always thought the legend to be fake… Yet, here before him was apparent evidence of the contrary.
Sewn by the Reaper of the of the late 1200s, this cloak was passed from master to student for many centuries before eventually landing into our possession. It was used to harvest the souls during some of man's most trying times, most notably the black plague of the 1340s and great plague of 1665. Despite popular belief, these collector's items possess no magic enhancing abilities, it's simply available to those who appreciate the aesthetic with all the original tatters and scratches still in place.
Harold stood behind Eugene, also admiring the item on display. "It's neat." Harold said softly.
"Do you like what you see?" Spoke a young shopkeeper, appearing behind them with the same level of stealth the Bald Old Man possessed. Also like the Bald Old Man, he wore the Cheshire Cat smile which Eugene could never determine whether it was genuinely friendly or hiding much sinister motives.
"I-It's nice." Eugene stuttered, his words coming out unwillingly, quickly forcing himself back to reality, he added, "But, there's something else we came here for."
"What's that?" The shopkeep chuckled.
"The animal injections!" Harold demanded, catching onto Eugene's distracted mindset. "Tell us about them!"
"Tell?" The shopkeep repeated dumbly, caught off guard by the sudden display of confidence from the boy he had previously dismissed as just the tag along friend. Had he not been so dumbfounded the shopkeeper might have spun off into his all too often rehearsed speech explaining the injections, but he could tell from Harold's tone there was more to the command than what could be taken at face value.
"Alfred Lueders-Booth came up with the injections, did he not?" Eugene spoke, managing to muster up the same level of clarity as Harold. "Do you know him? My father? You know you're dealing with a fugitive, right?"
"Alfred is your-..." The shopkeeper sputtered, processing the new information. "Well I can see the family resemblance, but…. Yes, of course we know of his inventions. Though much less discussed in the Human World, Alfred's innovations in science are praised throughout the Magic World. It's a shame he experimented on humans and became a fugitive. He could have been hailed as one of the world's greatest inventors if he wasn't forced to go into hiding soon after."
"So you have been dealing with him!" Eugene shouted, anger boiling inside of him.
The shopkeeper managing to regain composure and shook his head. "Once he went on the run, his scientific journals became public information. He no longer owns the rights to his discoveries." The shopkeeper smiled thoughtfully, this time genuine and ruffled Eugene's hair as if he was a father playing with his young son. "But don't worry boy, I'm certain Alfred's reign is far from over. Some call me crazy, but I'm certain he'll be born again from these ashes and reestablish his spot on the top. It's only whispered right now by those that truly believe, but he's already gained some notoriety as the Human Phoenix. And when he returns, they'll all be saying it."
Ignoring the looks of terror from Harold and Eugene, the shopkeeper's attention shifted back to the reaper cloak and scythe. He pulled the key from his pocket and unlocked the glass. "If this is really what you're interested in then it's on the house. But please, tell Alfred for me that I treated his son."
"But I-...!" Eugene protested, too surprised to know whether he was expected to thank the store owner or be angry at him, but the shopkeeper had already vanished. Both boys re-appeared in front of the store with no memory of leaving. As discussed, the reaper scythe and cloak were in Eugene's possession, the cloak was folded neatly, carried by Eugene in a shopping bag with the paper description underneath it and the scythe (too large for the bag) was held tight in Eugene's hand. Both sights came as a surprise to the duo.
In deep thought, Eugene set down the scythe and bag, and withdrew the cloak…
Eugene, the harvester of death… How many people had his father killed? How many more would die? Was it in any way comparable to those of the grim reaper? Looking back at the reaper cloak which once intrigued Eugene so, now felt like a punishment. He'd continue to wear the cloak until Alfred was contained because Eugene felt just as responsible as Alfred was for any deaths he brought on in the meantime.
"You may have to hide your last name if Alfred is this famous here." Harold stated uncomfortably.
"I suppose you're right." Eugene agreed, still in deep thought as he straightened out the cloth and slid it on overtop of his clothes. Thankfully it was baggy so Eugene had some room to grow knowing it was unlikely Alfred's manhunt would end anytime soon. Though if it could be helped, the boy much prefered it would end sooner rather than later. He admired himself in the cloth, unfolding the sleeves. It felt so light as if it would rip apart any second. There were many tears in the fabric, undoubtedly a result of scuffling on the battlefield from spirits unwilling to leave the earth.
"That uh…cloak looks good on you, but I don't think it will do you much good for blending in." Harold muttered, unsure whether or not this knowledge was of any use to Eugene, but he wanted to give his opinion regardless.
On the streets of Hamburg Germany, a blonde woman dressed head to toe in black, whimsically danced the streets, smiling to herself. From the streets, bypassers flashed confused, sometimes concerned looks. Sure, she didn't look much like a foreigner, but her light step and carefree attitude made her appear almost frightening if not a little deranged.
Unfortunately, such a thing wasn't far from the truth, particularly when the girl halted her dance to begin talking to herself, impatiently muttering words much too soft for most people understand. One man thought he had heard the name Alfred Lueders-Booth, but just as soon dismissed it as part of his imagination. There was no way this young woman would dare utter such a cursed name.
Of course if you haven't guessed yet this woman was none other than Karly. Her cloning abilities had allowed her to easily multiply herself. While half of her was in Germany, another half had stayed home as not to alarm her parents. According to the diary, this was Alfred's location. Though how the diary knew this was something Karly could never get a clear answer on.
The truth will be revealed soon enough. Was the diary's only response.
Regaining composure with the same sporadic behavior that had brought the girl to dancing in the first place, Karly breathed out slow, every bit of frustration showing through her puffed out cheeks.
"How close are we?"
Very close. Be patient my Master.
She followed the diary's directions onto a quiet street. The sun was setting, causing Karly to feel the chills of the night. She pushed her arms to her chest in a futile attempt to stay warm. Despite believing herself to be something like a creature of darkness, the night itself never failed to shake Karly to the bone. The night could choke her to death. The night could extinguish Karly's flickering soul. And it could do it all through sight alone.
But what bothered Karly most about the night was how it could open her eyes to just how vulnerable she really was. She led a lonely path, one that no one could follow or hope to understand. But she felt as though she had to continue walking it as sometimes it was necessary to pretend to be on the side of the thing that scares you most so that you may never have to confront it.
Stop. The diary ordered in its usual monotone growl. They were in front of a home which appeared much too ordinary to house anything supernatural. Though Karly supposed if Alfred could blend so seamlessly into their small town then it made much more sense for this chameleon scientist to blend in as much as possible, even in Germany.
I suppose it's time for me to explain myself. The diary spoke, snapping Karly out of her trance.
"Yeah…. That would help." Karly agreed.
The reason I know so much about Alfred is because he's a diary user as well. In fact, he's been one much longer than you. All this time I've been feeding you both information in hopes of your paths crossing.
From how the diary growled it was difficult to read any emotion from it apart from beast. But even Karly could tell it sounded like the diary was taking delight from its job well done. Sure the diary claimed to be emotionless, but with its habit for part-truths Karly wouldn't have been surprised if even that was a lie.
Maybe someone other than Karly would have felt betrayed by this newfound revelation, despite being led to feel like she was in charge of her own fate, the diary was manipulating her every step.
However, to Karly, the humor in discovering betrayal through a diary didn't escape her. No, this was much too silly and almost too expected at this point for Karly to feel anything close to anger. She smiled devilishly, causing the diary to chuckle.
Go to the door Karly, Alfred is expecting you.
Cautiously, the girl approached Alfred's door. She lifted her arm to knock, but the door was pulled open before her hand made contact. Alfred from the other side, stood in a lab coat, composed yet smiling. Karly never met Alfred so she was momentarily taken aback by how much he looked like an older Eugene. Alfred's red hair was much less curly and the shape of his face was different, but aside from that, the family resemblance was jarringly obvious. Alfred was even clean-shaven with short hair, giving him a much younger appearance.
"Karly, it's nice to meet you. I take it the diary has told you all about me."
Karly, feeling surprisingly timid, answered with a slow nod.
"Well take off your shoes," The man winked, more than willing to carry the conversation. He walked Karly through the home. Like back at Eugene's house the inside appeared unnaturally casual, like he had bought the essentials, picking out the first sets of furniture that went together without any heart. "We…. The diary and I, have been waiting for this moment for years now. I wanted this new life in Germany, but I was waiting for someone who shared the same drive as me to find the diary and become my apprentice.
"S-so…" Karly hesitated, holding out her arms as she frantically tried to piece together information. "All this was your plan all along. You wanted me to find your lab? To expose it to the world?"
Alfred's grin widened as he led Karly into a dark living room. A fat blonde woman, presumably Eugene's mother sat expressionless on the couch, staring unblinkingly at Karly and Alfred. The shock of this caused Karly to jump out of her skin. No TV, no lights the woman was simply watching them from the darkened room.
"H-hello," Karly said timidly. The woman didn't respond.
Alfred made no attempt to acknowledge the events that transpired before him or the woman in the room. He took a seat on the other side of the couch from the woman and looked expectantly for Karly to take a seat at the couch adjacent from them.
Hesitantly, Karly obeyed, deciding that if Alfred wasn't going to make a fuss over the woman's existence then neither would she.
"It was time. I wasn't going to keep quiet and let my findings go unnoticed." Alfred explained. "Of course, they only saw what I wanted them to see."
"So what exactly is the endgame? And what do you want with someone like me?"
Alfred gave a large toothy smile, composure finally breaking as he released a soft chuckle. "Karly, I know our goals are the same. Surely, you must know it too." Alfred hesitated, but continued upon noting Karly's confusion. "People like us…. We seek truth. I think humans deserve to know where they came from…. No, wait, they need to know it. Why are we the most advanced species on earth? We were tossed onto this planet without an explanation. But I hate ignorance. What if our species was in danger? We'd be no better than cattle before their slaughter. Humans hate me because I challenge their way of thinking. But those of the Magic World are different. Not every wizard is going to love me, not every human is going to hate me, but in general wizards have been far more supportive."
"W-why?" Karly asked, picking up that Alfred wanted her to push further. Maybe it was the woman's stare… Had she somehow moved closer since Karly last paid attention? Or maybe it was the level of satisfaction Alfred took from explaining his plans, but whatever dread the night brought Karly was heightened in that moment as if to warn her that she was beginning something far more evil than the diary. And much to her surprise, though she knew not what to do, she hated every part of the evil she was witnessing.
"Let's just say some wizards aren't a whole lot different from us. Humans might be frightened by the unknown. They may have a friend who was enlightened or changed spiritually and fear it, not understanding what could change a person so much. But have you wondered why magic is so addictive? To put it bluntly magic gives you the abilities to shift the dimensions your reality with nearly limitless possibilities. One who's given complete freedom, does not turn around and ask to be restricted once more. But one who doesn't know freedom may never understand. For that reason, magic fascinates me, but more than that I want to find humanity's limits. Where did we come from? What can we do? Can we modify ourselves?"
Karly nodded, interest intensifying, despite the unease that refused to leave. "I want to know too! I find it all so interesting!"
Alfred's smile widened to the point where Karly half expected his cheeks to burst. "That is so good."
"So how much do you know about where we came from and about our purpose?" Karly asked, the question weighing on her more and more with Alfred's increased excitement.
"Absolutely nothing!" He laughed. "Seriously it's driving me nuts. No matter what pieces I uncover, there's always too many pieces missing… Where did humans come from? Where did magic come from? It's almost like…. No, this is going to sound too crazy…."
"What?!" Karly asked, eyes widening.
"Magic and humans… I don't think either of these things originated on earth. I think someone planted us here. But for what reason I'm not sure."
"Are you talking about like…. Aliens?"
Slowly, Alfred nodded. "It's just a theory. But..." He looked around the room as if searching for words that were much less crazy. He hated that in all his search for the truth he sounded no different than a conspiracy theorist. "I can't find any other explanation. I mean in all our evolution, how come humans haven't better evolved to suit our climate? As for magic, nobody knows where it came from but somehow over time its knowledge was passed down to humans and they became the first generation of wizards. Heck, items like the diary itself are surrounded in mystery. Who was the one the diary calls the Watcher that created it? For how little is known I don't believe the Watcher is human or even a wizard."
"Yes, but there's an upside to all this. When I found the diary I wished for insight, knowledge beyond human understanding. I may not know our origin, but the diary promised me that if I follow its orders all would be revealed…" He paused. "The diary's wording, not mine. I'd never ask for something so vague. But I don't know what else to do. I can't find the answers on my own, but I feel man's ignorance could be our greatest downfall."
"What does it want from you?"
Alfred looked away unwittingly. "We've got to take charge of the Magic World. The diary told me it will give us the steps as we're ready for them, but our deadline is December 21 2012, giving us roughly 30 years."
"So there must be a lot to this…" Karly said thoughtfully.
"Maybe more than we'll have time for… We're talking leadership in 30 years."
"But why such a specific date?"
Alfred shrugged. "It's the date of the new world order, so says the diary. But I can't begin to understand what such a thing entails. All I know for certain is that after that date, regardless of whether we pass or fail, our entire world… worlds, Magic and Human, will never be the same. But how exactly they'll change depends at least somewhat on us."
"Sounds like you have a lot of uncertainty." Karly spoke. Alfred's choice to expose his plans and the amount of vulnerability that came them had done a funny thing for the two. Alfred was now the timid one while Karly was increasingly finding it much easier to regain composure and shift back into her regular self. "You're putting blind faith into a magical diary that's telling part truths while hiding its identity. We don't know its motives. What if it's lying to us?"
"Believe me, those doubts cross my mind often. But I gave up a relationship with my son for this. I wanted him a shot at a at least somewhat normal life, unburdened by my sins. I hope he hates me now and hates what I've done like I hate myself…. I started this journey not wanting to pass on the opportunity the diary gave me, but my assurance faded with time." Alfred looked Karly in the eyes, a stern expression plastered across the man's restless face. "Karly, I don't want you to regret this. I've given too much away to turn around now. But it's not too late for you... And I'm so lonely. I-..."
"You're conflicted." Karly completed Alfred's thought to which he nodded. She kept her composure, mostly out of necessity. If she showed the scientist empathy she'd find it much harder to make a rational decision. Then another thought voiced itself in Karly's mind which she had to ask. "But your wife…"
"She hasn't been well in some time." Alfred answered solemnly. "I watch over her, but since our departure, she's become a shell of who she once was. Her mind's completely gone."
While Karly could maintain composure when thinking of Alfred, she felt a great amount of sympathy for his wife. When Alfred had gone through with all this he knew the consequences. Given Alfred's intelligence Karly found it hard to believe he didn't foresee this outcome (at least to some extent). He only regretted his decisions in hindsight, once he already had the payoff in his trade for knowledge. But somehow Karly doubted that Alfred's wife was given the same amount of say in her fate.
Regardless, Karly found favor in Alfred's offer. It wasn't the same as studying magic, but perhaps she would receive the same amount of satisfaction from this offer. Alfred was gifted with an all-seeing eye and knowledge beyond his years. There was no telling what she could learn from this internship.
"I'll join you."